/ 20 October 2016

Rich countries shirk refugee duty

The EU is determined to send back everyone whose life is not under immediate threat at home.
The EU is determined to send back everyone whose life is not under immediate threat at home.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto had harsh words for richer countries that do not take an equal responsibility for hosting refugees.

Speaking at the September 19 United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, on the eve of the UN General Assembly debate, he said that nothing better demonstrated the failure of international burden-sharing than the fact that 86% of the world’s 22-million forced migrants and refugees were hosted in 10 developing countries. Kenya is one of them.

Ruto was scathing about the limited financial support to his country to deal with the refugee crisis. Less than one percent of the $500-million pledged to help Kenya deal with refugees had materialised, he said.

One of the consequences was the country’s decision to close its refugee camp in Dadaab, the biggest in the world. Environmental degradation and security were other reasons for closing the camp.

Dadaab, situated near the Somali border, was seen as a recruitment ground for al-Shabab. The decision to close the camp, taken in October last year, came soon after the European Union signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees headed for Europe. Kenya said that voluntary international funding for the camp had been reduced in favour of “raising budgets in the northern hemisphere to [deal with] refugees headed to the West”.

His comments come in the midst of a toughening stance on African migrants as EU leaders — emboldened by their success in halting a mass influx of refugees by closing Greek borders and cutting the controversial Turkey deal — push for stricter measures.

“By the end of the year, we need to see results,” one senior EU diplomat said on Wednesday (October 19).

A Brussels summit on Thursday sought to endorse pilot projects to put pressure on African governments with aid budgets to slow an exodus of people from the north, across the Sahara and Mediterranean. It also wanted swift results from an EU campaign to deport large numbers who reach Italy.

South Africa’s home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, said a summit had not been called to address Africa’s large migrant flows, including fatal journeys across the Mediterranean. “That would seem to suggest that the lives of Africans don’t matter.”

The New York Declaration “still reflects a bias towards the dominant countries”, he added, saying that Africa would continue to push its position on this issue.

The New York Declaration, signed by 193 countries, deals mainly with large movements of people.

Oxfam International noted at the UN summit that the world’s six richest countries hosted less than 9% of the world’s refugees.

Uganda’s minister for disaster preparedness, management and refugees, Hilary Onek, told the UN summit that Uganda had received more than 120 000 South Sudanese refugees since July and, together with an influx from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, expected to have more than 810 000 refugees by year-end.

The government has a policy to protect refugees, he said, but it needs commitment from the international community to ensure sustained interventions and to build strong partnerships internally, regionally and globally to address forced migration.

Senegalese President Macky Sall emphasised the right to dignity: “In many cases, migrants are good people who work hard to make a living and therefore contribute socially and economically in their host countries.

“Rather than a systematic policy of returning migrants, the situation of migrants should be stabilised and this should be done by the appropriate regularisation of their status.”

Despite the reservations of African leaders, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the UN summit “represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility”, which was at unprecedented levels.

Following the UN summit, United States President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees brought together leaders from 50 countries. Several pledges were made to help countries deal with the refugee crisis. Obama acknowledged that refugees in places such as Ecuador and Kenya “don’t always get as much attention as some of the recent migrations, but they need help too”.

The shift towards a more hard-nosed foreign policy by European leaders is reflected in EU aid projects in Africa being conditional on their co-operation regarding refugees. The EU is determined to send back everyone whose life is not under immediate threat at home.

In an example of the new approach, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised assistance to Ethiopia just days after Addis Ababa took in 50 people deported from Europe, even though it had been reluctant to do that earlier.

In Niger, an EU-funded information point in Agadez, a transit point for refugees crossing the Sahara to board boats for Europe, tried talking people out of migrating by warning them of the journey’s perils.

Elizabeth Collett, the director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, said: “It is very much about sending a message to would-be migrants. The political impetus is about
sending this discouraging message.”

EU officials want to put in place tougher measures to identify refugees and fly them back to Africa before next year’s migration season, when thousands are expected to take to precarious boats from Libya.

“We need to clean this up and have migration compacts with African countries in place before next spring,” a senior EU official said.

That will depend on persuading African states — initially Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Ethiopia and Mali — to take back their citizens.

The new approach to keep people away from Europe was first proposed by Italy, the main disembarkation point for Africa migrants.

The EU is already bringing African officials to Italy to identify citizens who may try to conceal their identity to avoid being sent home.

Arrivals in Italy this year are nearly 6% higher than they were in the same period last year. Italy received 154 000 refugees last year and this year’s figure will be similar or slightly higher.

The buildup has accelerated since Italy’s northern neighbours clamped down on border controls.

African leaders may be persuaded to agree to the new policy given that the EU is the continent’s biggest aid donor. But the move is controversial.

Aid agency Oxfam has urged EU leaders to abandon their drive to build a “Fortress Europe” and instead help those in need.

Raphael Shilhave, Oxfam’s migration policy adviser in Brussels, says: “The need for development aid and Europe’s obligation to alleviate poverty should not be about reducing mobility.

“The reasons of displacement should be addressed through understanding the situation on the ground, seeking solutions to the conflicts that are driving displacement of people,” he said. — Reuters and ISS Today